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We are now a week away from Microsoft’s next big event in which they may show off a new piece of hardware (or not).

However we do now that this event will be focused on the Education market.

Now the event is believed to be the unveiling of Windows 10 Cloud; a version of Windows that from leaks appears to be designed to compete with Google’s Chromebooks. For those that don’t know, Chromebooks run ChromeOS (a operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser). Chromebooks have seen steady growth; especially in the education market. This growth, along with data suggesting Chrome has helped grow the stagnating PC market, is cited as reason for the new Windows variant.

Windows 10 Cloud is a version of Windows 10 that locks the system so users can only use applications coming out of the Windows store. In some ways it is similar to Windows RT (the version of Windows 8 for ARM devices) with the difference being Cloud users can upgrade to full Windows. Now according to information from Windows Central, Cloud’s target specs are designed to compete with ChromeOS.

For Windows 10 Cloud and devices running it to compete they have to make a case for why it is a better choice than a Chromebook or an iPad.

For educators and schools a Chromebook has benefits in terms of cost, software, and maintenance. Cost is simple; compared to a Windows PC, Mac, or an iPad Chromebooks are cheaper. For example Dell sells an Education laptop  with both Windows and Chrome. For a 13 inch laptop the Windows device runs for $519 and the Chromebook for $299. Compare that same Chromebook to a 9.7 inch iPad (sans keyboard) that runs for $309; Chromebooks make sense. With software the benefit of running Chrome is it’s lightweight and limited. ChromeOS is basically a browser so it doesn’t have the same overhead a PC or Mac does. Also a lot of the materials used in schools today are web based like testing. Lastly ChromeOS is easier to deploy and maintain. Chromebooks limited nature makes it perfect for schools and school districts that have little or no IT support. This is not mentioning Google’s services like G Suite; which are free or discounted.

 

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image: Windows Central

 

 

Another factor in the education space is the differing needs of students according to age. The needs of a teacher with First graders is much different than a 10th grade History teacher. One reason iPads work well in schools and had larger adoption than Macs is they are excellent tools for K-5. In those grades the simpler and more intuitive tablet works. Touch is an easier concept for early learning. Making an iPad work beyond this period requires extras like keyboards and sometimes isn’t the best solution for older students.

So Windows 10 Cloud is facing a few hurdles.

And this was just the education market.

Windows 10 Cloud’s first hurdle will be explaining why it exists and why customers should consider it. Microsoft went down this path with Windows RT and it was rejected. Now there have been improvements. Windows Store and Windows 10, unlike RT, allow all apps to run on the desktop. Also Cloud will allow users to upgrade to “real” Windows whenever they like. But it also brings back something RT did have; a light weight, faster version of Windows.

Windows Cloud’s education and student focus allows for it to be sold as a secure OS. The fact it only runs pre-approved apps means it avoids a lot of the things people associate  Windows with; viruses  and undeletable junk software. One of the benefits of having a simpler system like a Chromebook is its built to work as an appliance. They are designed to be easily picked up and used. In an education environment that ability to pick it up and just use it without a lot load time or checking for updates is benefit. And this brings us to cost and deployment.

Perhaps the biggest factor in what device schools buy is cost. If you are a cash strapped district buying $200-400 dollar iPads along with Apple Pencils and keyboards is a non-starter. Remember they are buying in bulk and for about 4-6 years worth of use (and this is just me spit balling about devices for in school use, not 1-to-1 programs). Microsoft has recently introduced a Windows version for Education along with deals for low cost education PCs. However they are still more expensive than a Chromebook which can be picked up at an OfficeMax (I have personally seen teachers in stores looking).

The other factor in choosing devices is maintenance. Some schools have dedicated IT staff; others have at least one teacher who is the dedicated tech support. So deployment and upkeep are big factors. iPads and Chromebooks work in part because they are easier to deploy. They are also easier for teachers to fix without calling tech support. Microsoft has simplified management and deployment with Intune for Education (simplified computer management). However I am unclear if they have solutions for triaging apps and devices.

Now I haven’t talked about software yet and I guess its as good as time as any.

So at the 800 word mark I will switch it up and describe how I think Microsoft will sell Windows 10 Cloud.

 

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image: Windows Central

 

 

From an education standpoint, Windows 10 Cloud’s selling point is that it can grow with the student. The fact that Windows went touch three years ago means it runs on tablets but also on those clamshells kids upgrade to as they age. For institutions the argument is they have a one stop shop. Also this is Windows which means Office and in particular OneNote. OneNote is tailor built for students in mind and it’s growing feature set has been designed to appeal to teachers building ad hoc lesson plans. Also Office 365 offers both free and paid options for schools, students, and teachers (including 24/7 customer care). Microsoft also has software like Minecraft for Education (aka Lego Crack). With Windows 10 Microsoft has inking and touch built in.

Unlike Apple they have multiple vendors. In comparison to Google they are more expensive. Or not because Windows 10 Cloud will probably be a free version of the OS. In terms of manageability Windows 10 Cloud Microsoft will argue it has more flexibility; from homegrown offering like Active Directory and Intune to 3rd party vendors. In terms of third party apps and other features I think Microsoft may ink new deals with education software vendors and tout their Edge Browser.

And as far as hardware goes, if there is branded hardware it will be around 10-11 inches (good middle ground for K-12), 6GB of RAM, 64/128 GB, and a SSD. It will have an attached keyboard and come with a pen. I also think it may be built with a different type of material than the magnesium of Surface.

(Now this isn’t certain, but I’m betting on two devices; a clamshell and a smaller tablet)

Okay that’s it turn in later for a nice (and brief) piece on Windows 10 Cloud for everyone else.

 

So on May 2, Microsoft will be holding an education focused event. The rumor is the event will cover Windows 10 Cloud and a new computing device from Redmond.

Now the device will NOT be an update to the Surface Pro or Surface Book.

It will also not be the long rumored Phone.

Many are taking cues from an early DigiTimes rumor saying Redmond will be premiering a Surface clamshell device. That rumor said this device would sell for $1,000 and be positioned as an entry model. Given past devices there is debate on whether this PC will be a straight up laptop or something like the Lenovo Yoga (folds into a tablet).

This is just my take on what may go down beginning with the software.

Windows Cloud

Windows 10 Cloud is a new version of Windows in the vein of Home or Business. Microsoft has not been public about Cloud; it hasn’t stated its existence and what we know comes from leaked information. What we do know is Cloud is a fairly locked down version of Windows 10 that only runs software coming from the Windows Store. Also for a price, a user can upgrade the system to full Windows.

On paper Windows Cloud resembles Windows RT; the early ARM based version of Windows 8 that ran only WINRT based apps. Now that where that comparison ends because Cloud can run apps in the modern Windows store that includes x86 applications and apps built on UWP (the updated version of WINRT). Also those apps run in windowed mode which RT did in a limited fashion. So beyond that we don’t know much about Cloud. It’s a locked down variant of Windows.

The thing with Cloud is its widely considered to be a competitor to Google’s ChromeOS. ChromeOS is an OS based of the Chrome browser; the apps you run are web apps and some Android apps (depending on the device). Unlike MacOS and Windows Chrome is a lightweight system; like a mobile OS. Google does most of the maintenance and updating without user input. ChromeOS and Chromebooks basically offer what most of us do with computers now; the browser. While ChromeOS has had some traction in the consumer market it has had serious success in education.

So Cloud exists because of ChromeOS but what does that mean for May?

Windows Cloud is just one part of Microsoft’s possible education play. I say that in part because most of the leaked info about Cloud doesn’t limit it to devices aimed at schools. There is also a version of Windows aimed at the Education market which no one has said is being merged with Cloud. So in my opinion Cloud if its shown off will be a new initiative around offering lower cost entry devices. The education angle will come in the form of new services and updated applications. Things like OneNote, Word, Sway, and Intune for Education.

 

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Surface Cloudbook

So what about hardware?

Now my personal opinion is there is a 50/’50 chance this event will see no branded Microsoft hardware but PCs from partners. I say this if the event’s focus is on Widows Cloud. But if there is a new Surface device this my idea on what it will be.

Given the focus of the event, past Surface devices, and Windows Cloud I think the device will likely be similar to the Surface 3. It won’t be based off the current Surface Pro as that is too large for kids in Elementary and Middle school. I am going under the assumption that this PC will be positioned as a device that can grow with the child; also work for younger students. So I do think the screen size will be around the 10 inch mark; 11 would be pushing.

Second if we go with the rumor about the clamshell; then this device will look like the Lenovo Yoga Book. This device will be a deviation from what we think of as a Surface device, but not by much. I expect it will use the same aspect ratio use touch, and function like a tablet. The difference will be if the keyboard stays attached. There is a possibility that this may look like a smaller Surface Book. If the keyboard stays attached we could see a new design around a Yoga styled device. I expect a pen will be included. Also if this is an education facing device we may get the first non Magnesium built Surface. Like the Surface 3 this thing will run on a mobile Intel chip (possibly Qualcomm).

 

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Lenovo’s Yogabook a possible guide to Surface Cloudbook

 

My best guess is the May 2 event will focus mostly on Windows Cloud and it’s benefits to education. I’m also guessing Cloud will be a free offering and Cloud devices will be aggressively priced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last night Microsoft Wes Miller posted on Twitter how not everyone should learn programing but how many students should learn logic; I posted something about pie and we had a brief discussion. The discussion ventured into science, programming, and education. The whole thing reminded me of the post I keep trying and failing to write because I honestly get caught up in its complexity. So today I will try again and hopefully come across like I know what I’m saying.

It all began with Michelle Rhee. Rhee at the time was the Chancellor of Education for Washington DC. She had earned a reputation as a reformer, a no nonsense leader who barreled through the DC education system like a flood. Her plan for reforming schools through a mix of testing, teacher accountability, and essentially turning education into a results oriented endeavor earned her plaudits and a Time cover. Her style also earned her the scorn of DC teachers and parents, especially African-Americans. Many felt that she was the reason her boss loss his reelection.

Rhee represents, along with the documentary Waiting for Superman and codeproject.org, a trend in education reform. It’s a trend that has been around for a while now, going back to when I was a kid. It doesn’t have a catchy name, maybe we could call it extreme education reformation. It has a tendency to be selective in what it reforms and who it will impact; and it tends not to treat the underlying problems in education. Another aspect of the trend is that it tends to be about something other than education.

When I was younger, around 7th grade, the big education debate was around vouchers and private school. Vouchers allow students who meet specific qualifications to get into private schools where it was felt they could perform better. In fact the biggest education story was the decision of then President Bill Clinton to send his daughter to a private school as opposed to a public one. It became such an issue that one of our local news stations came to my school to do a bit.

The controversy then was many saw Clinton’s decision as an implicit acknowledgement of failure of public education. It became a Republican cause to push vouchers as a form of education reform. It was an education trend that lasted thru most of the 90s. The voucher debate was interesting because it was kind of Darwinian; only the qualified would get in. It also left a lot out of the conversation; how many vouchers would be available, what were the private institutions’ criteria for admittance, what would you do with the kids left behind.

The issue with vouchers (also known as school choice by more conservative leaning people) morphed slowly into charter schools (like private public schools) and magnate schools. At that time the trend shifted to privatizing education. Companies like were pushing

It’s a strange coincidence that while I was procrastinating (researching) a piece on tablets and education I run across Amplify on Engadget. Amplify is a new company bringing learning software for tablets aimed at the Kindergarten through 12th grade markets. The software includes tools for monitoring student improvement and tools for teachers and parents. Amplify is working in conjunction with ATT to get these services into classrooms.

 

 

Amplify is a subsidiary of News Corps (yes the one owned by Rupert Murdoch). The company is made up of News Corps Scholastic publishing and another eLearning company, Wireless Generation (a maker of education software for mobile and tablets). Amplify’s CEO Joel Kline is the former Chancellor of New York’s Department of Education and a well known thinker in its education. Many of the top heads of Amplify have backgrounds in Education for Profit (Privatized Education), business, and one guy who worked on Barnes and Noble’s Nook and related software. 

It’s strange but looking at the videos showing off Amplify’s software and the testimonials about the effectiveness of its software package, I was remembering my first run-ins with technology in a classroom. For me that was elementary school in the Eighties. I remember it was around 2nd or 3rd grade we saw the technicians bring in the boxes and install 30-40 computers in the room near the councilors office. Now I can’t tell you the model or what OS it ran and we didn’t spend a lot of time in the Computer Room; going there was one of the rewards for being good students and behaving (so we didn’t go often). If you went into the room you did one of two things, you played the Oregon Trail or Super Number Crunchers. Back then and honestly until I was in 12th grade computers were seen and barely used. Depending on your class a teacher might use some educational software but it wasn’t an integral part of the curriculum. And I’m not going to bore you with my High School computer class which wasn’t much better (one of my assignments was learning how to use Paint). Honestly the one class that made great use of computers wasn’t a class, it was the Yearbook.

Now that was a century ago (damn you Father Time) and if I went into a class today it would be different, but only slightly. And it would depend on a lot of factors like whether it was a technical school, AP, Optional, or a Charter.

You get the idea. Technology in a classroom is a mixed bag; depending on teachers, students, and planning it can be asset or a time waster. For all the talk of the world being changed by technology and technology changing how we live; it hasn’t had a clear success in education. The reason is because no one honestly knows how to fit them in.

There are the obvious places for them, what some call STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses. These are the courses that define the 21st century workforce or at least that’s what they tell you. These are also the courses that rely on computational power; CAD comes to mind. But what about the social sciences, history, and art? What role does a PC have there? There is no clear answer. And yet if you look at the conversation about education reform one of the solutions is to push Computers (along with smartphones and tablets).

And into that quagmire Amplify and others walk. I will give Amplify credit because it system has ways of monitoring students and measuring results. And from the videos (the site lacks a lot of info) it appears teachers can set the agenda. I do worry that its pushing a model of teaching that maybe too data focused; I think we are in enough trouble with the test based mess now.

As much I would like to see tablets be embraced as educational tools, I worry that educators, politicians, and parents will inflate their importance. That the simple act of having them in the room will make a smarter child.

The reality is that computers and tablets can be distracting. Yes they can sit there and write a report, but they can also sit there and watch videos on YouTube. We need to see smarter uses of technology in classrooms. Technology needs to be a reinforcement for whatever subject the teacher in the room is teaching. I see tablets and computers as extenders; an add on. Teachers need to have a plan on how to integrate them into the lesson plan. I’m sorry but if you don’t need the distraction of a glowing screen, don’t use one. I also question why no one looks at using the stylus to reinforce the seemingly forgotten R which is writing. Writing reinforces memory and honestly I don’t think we need to be living in a world where we have adults who can’t recognize hand writing.

The digital revolution is coming to education, I’m just hoping that it will be smart about it.